How Artificial Intelligence Will Drive B2B Commerce

Sep 22, 2017

Article ImageArtificial Intelligence (AI) has quickly become a driving force in retail, with Forrester Research predicting earlier this year that investments into AI would triple before 2018. These trends in consumer marketing have primed the pump for widespread use of AI and insight-based marketing in B2B relationships. In fact, recent studies of business buyers show that almost two-thirds of them fully expect AI to anticipate their needs in the near future.

One of the most recognizable examples of B2C AI-driven marketing is preemptive marketing, which includes things like the movies Netflix recommends to you based on your viewing history and ratings, and the products companies like Amazon suggest based on your past purchases. Another example most people are familiar with is targeted advertising. Many ads you're served online are optimized specifically for you, such as ads on Facebook and other social media that are based on your interests, the accounts you follow, and the links you click.

The benefits of using that kind of AI in direct consumer marketing are obvious. The advantages for B2B organizations are equally as important, even though they don’t work in precisely the same ways. An investment in AI can you give great returns in areas like reordering, next generation search, personalization and more. But it's important to understand the differences between the goals of consumers and B2B buyers to fully reap the rewards of this kind of insight-based, data-driven ecommerce.

Consumer transactions are usually simple. A customer, often with no personal contact, clicks and buys in a completely self-directed sale. But in B2B commerce, each transaction can involve several different points of contact within the client company and may require people in many different roles to fulfill contracts and meet a buyer’s needs. This level of customization and complication sets B2B apart. AI can smooth out the self-directed portion of the buyer's journey and simplify search and reordering at any point in the buying process. It can also optimize marketing and personalization on the back-end.

I see three major ways in which AI will change B2B commerce in the near future.

Next Generation Search

The ability of a buyer to easily search through thousands of items in a custom catalog using next-generation tools is one way AI is going to change the face of B2B ecommerce. Text to speech tools and searches based on image recognition can help buyers find information quickly and efficiently. A mobile app with image recognition, for instance, can allow the user to take a photo with a smartphone and launch a search based on that image. Thanks to an insight-driven platform and technology, such an app can offer relevant results for that product that are not only accurate but also based on the buyer’s purchase history and custom catalog.

Another aspect of next-generation search is text to speech. Most consumers are familiar with Siri and Alexa, and enjoy the ability to ask questions and get instant answers. Amazon Polly is another service with deep learning capabilities that can create talking applications and many types of products that are speech-enabled. AI like this provides possibilities for new and exciting B2B product innovation.

AI applications used for better search methods and results can be part of an option set that each buyer can use how it suits them best. The availability of a traditional text-based search combined with text to speech and image recognition allows each user to search according to individual preference. Every person involved in a B2B transaction gets a customized experience with more efficient searches and better results.

Suggestive Selling

Consumers have adapted to a high level of self-directed searching and purchasing. B2B buyers are coming to expect that same convenience. AI is necessary for businesses to anticipate a buyer’s needs by analyzing a client’s past purchases and anticipating the next ones. This data analysis can automate the marketing process to make reordering easier, and it can suggest appropriate add-on products and services. This type of data-driven suggestive selling that predicts your client’s needs and offers them solutions makes for more efficient ordering, which builds brand loyalty. Strong client loyalty can allow you to price more competitively, because even price-sensitive buyers understand the value of easier researching, ordering, and reordering.

Suggestive selling that increases revenue by offering appropriate add-on products and services such as spare or complementary parts, technical support policies, and extended warranties, is one of the most obvious ways you’ll see a return on your investment. Your AI system can even analyze a client’s purchasing habits along with organization-wide sales patterns to determine the right point in a specific buyer’s journey to start suggesting those add-ons rather than always waiting until the final point of sale.

Real-Time Data

AI automation allows businesses to use real-time data to its advantage both in dealing with clients and on the back-end. The complexity of many B2B contracts, including government regulations and lengthy procurement processes, can be simplified through automation as AI learns each client’s history and purchasing habits. The easier it is for a client to reorder, the more goodwill and client loyalty you build.

On the back-end, AI’s real-time data capabilities will allow you to save time dealing with time-consuming tasks like inventory. The man hours that you spend taking physical inventory can be slashed with automated stock tracking and reordering. Both automated and simplified reordering for buyers and automated stock monitoring can save you huge amounts of time that can be better applied on income-generating tasks.

AI is no longer solely for big firms with massive budgets. Thanks to companies like Google and Amazon, and widespread use of the cloud, it’s now possible for a small or medium-sized company to enjoy its benefits. Buyers today expect the same level of simplicity and ease of use in B2B transactions that they’re used to as individual consumers. That expectation means an investment in AI will do more than keep your company current with the times. By understanding the complexities of B2B ecommerce, you can use AI data-driven marketing to get ahead of them.

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